Divorce and Family Mediation

Charles Newman has been a successful divorce lawyer for over thirty years.  His wide range of experience has taught him some simple truths.  One is that most people with marital discord prefer to find a way to cooperate in a respectful, civilized outcome, in a process that puts a premium on finding practical and mutually satisfying solutions.  Mr. Newman prefers to practice that way even when he is the lawyer for someone in a divorce.

Another way of working toward cooperative divorce is through mediation, a field that has been growing rapidly in New York and around the country.  To learn more about mediation generally, please click here.

How does mediation work in divorce?  The short answer is: Frequently, very well, and at a much lower cost to the clients.  Here’s the longer answer.

A couple realizing that they need to consider divorce may also realize that no judge could possibly understand everything about their family and the needs of all members of the family.  The parties may decide that for them, it is important to control their own futures, not ask others to decide what is best for them.  If they both want to avoid the cost, delay and destructive potential of a litigated divorce, they may choose, together, to hire a mediator like Chuck Newman, with special experience in divorce and family disputes and issues.

Normally, the couple will meet together with the mediator over the course of several sessions.  Each session has its own length, some as short as an hour, and sometimes, especially when there are lots of details to consider, they can last several hours.  The mediation sessions are designed to provide safe opportunities for each spouse to openly and frankly describe his or her needs and desires, concerns and goals.  Equally important, each party knows that both the other spouse and the neutral mediator have actually heard and understood what the speaking spouse has to say.

Often, there is “homework” between the mediation sessions.  For instance, there may be information to collect or learn, upon which the parties can move forward in future sessions.  The sessions build on one another, so that the parties continue to move toward a greater understanding of the needs and desires of both of them.

As that information and those insights grow, the parties are able to openly brainstorm ideas and options in a place of trust and mutual respect.  They have a chance to raise freely anything that comes to mind that might move them forward, or that might stymie them.  Some ideas might not help, some will be good, and some will be downright brilliant and groundbreaking.  But they are all listed so both spouses can look at all of the ideas and options together.  Together, they can analyze the strengths and weaknesses of all the ideas and options, and how well they meet each spouse’s needs and desires.  The focus in mediation tends to subtlety shift.  What can start as reflexive rejection of the other spouse’s proposals, can become mutual, cooperative consideration of options to see how they fit with the needs of the family and the individuals.

When divorce mediation succeeds, the parties agree on some or all of the issues that have to be resolved in any divorce, including dividing assets and debts and arranging for one spouse to pay “spousal maintenance” (formerly called alimony) to the other if that is appropriate.  If there are children, they can agree on how to share the joys and responsibilities of parenting, where and when they spend time with the kids, and how the expenses of the children will be shared.

The divorce mediation process moves the spouses toward a resolution that each of them knows takes everyone’s needs into consideration, and which each spouse feels is best.  As a result, many divorce mediation clients feel as though they haven’t “settled” at all.  Rather, they feel that both spouses have been in control of the process and have found — in partnership with the other spouse — a resolution that works for everyone.  People who mediate their divorces frequently take great pride and ownership of having resolved for themselves a complex and emotional set of issues.

Is mediation right for every couple?  Not at all.  If either spouse really wants to fight for the sake of fighting, for example, mediation is not likely to be the right choice.  With rare exceptions, though, mediation is something spouses should consider.  You might want to get started learning a little more about mediation by clicking here.

Many people find that both the mediation sessions and the “homework” provide a framework in which they can think through what has happened in the past and what they would like to see happen in the future.  Mediation often lets people figure out what is truly most important to them and helps them to get on not only with the divorce, but with the rest of their lives as well.

Chuck Newman co-authored a paper for the Mediation Committee of the New York State Bar Association Dispute Resolution Section.  It was written mainly for lawyers, but many non-lawyers may find it a useful explanation of divorce and family mediation.  It also compares and contrasts many methods of proceeding with marital disputes.  You can read the paper by clicking here.

If you would like to know more about divorce mediation, please feel free to ask Chuck Newman online or call us at (212) 332-3321.